Thursday, November 1, 2018

Still Gail


October 13, 2018
Confused About Death

I am confused about death. Gail was curious. Both responses seem to come from “not knowing.” Curious would seem to be a more Zen attitude.

This confusion and curiosity began over 100 years ago with a battle with Lawrence of Arabia. My grandfather, a Paris educated Jew living in Beirut was fighting with the Arabs and the British against the Turks. The Turks were trying to build a 1800 mile railroad to feed their empire. My grandpa was an engineer and was supposed to blow up a bridge. Unfortunately something unexpected happened and he died. Actually his body was never found, which is why my grandma had to come to the US to remarry.

The story goes that my grandma, upon hearing about the death, tore off her clothes and ran around the house wailing as Jews would do at that time. My dad was two at the time and never quite recovered.

My mom lost her dad to prison as a young girl. Luckily her new father was a gem both to her, and to me as the grandfather whom I came to know and love.

My parents shielded us from death. They had had enough of it. Actually the ancient Jews also reacted against the emphasis on death rituals that were an important part of earlier pagan religions. My mom would often say, life is for the living, which is actually suggested in the Torah where a funeral procession is told to wait for a wedding procession going over a narrow mountain pass.

No wonder Gary, my brother-in-law, was confused when I wasn’t responding normally to my sister dying.

Yesterday my wife and I had an argument. I told her that Peg had said that when we die we are unborn. Linda said that was foolish, we can’t go back to that state of being unborn. Then she said, what about a knot, what happens when you untie it? I laughed and said that was just my point. We are strings of DNA, tied in a knot for a while, and then untied and dispersed.

Part of my sadness is that death is always premature. Some say that Moses  died “prematurely” when he was 120. Adam lived to 930 and Noah to 950. Maybe part of our response to death is because of our tendency to grasp. You’ll hear how Gail didn’t do that.

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October 6, 2018
The Intensive(s)

My first dharma talk was supposed to be a way seeking mind talk, describing my spiritual path that led me to this point in time and place in space. Gail had promised to come. Then she took ill and I kept looking for a date that she’d recover so I could give it. Plan b was give it to her as she was preparing for her passing. Early on she asked me about the afterlife. I told her what I believed—that we live on both through the people we’ve touched and by the redistribution of our molecules. But I never gave her the talk. Her journey was too compelling for that. It took over my life, and became an intensive itself.

What I’ve really wanted to do for the last 10 years was a 90-day intensive. What I really wanted to do was to wake up in the morning when I retired 11 years ago and stretch my arms into the air and say to myself, today I’m going to do X. I guess it is 4015 days now and I haven’t done that. Crazy? I sometimes feel like a prisoner.

One of my teachers gave me the assignment of not coming to sit. I’m still working on that. Sometimes at night I say to myself that it would be so nice just to stay in bed. But one thing leads to another, and I come to Appamada, sometimes just to fall asleep on the cushion.

I visited Gail in April, came back for an intensive, then knew I had to go back to Gail. I didn’t get it then, but what we do is pretty much determined by what needs to be done. That’s why the Diamond Sutra can be reduced to the Buddha finishing his meal, washing his feet, and then sitting down on his cushion. That was his job at hand.

In May I went back to help take care of her. For a short time, it seemed that she didn’t need me, but I found stuff to do... and before long, she wasn’t doing so well so I stayed and stayed. Before we knew it, almost 90 days had passed. And she had passed, one of the numerous euphemisms that we used to describe her transformation. Funny how the other day I used the words, “my sister is dead,” just to make sure that the financial institution understood that we wanted her name removed from some accounts.

I was lucky to be able to come back to another intensive. I discovered, among other things, that life is one intensive after another. Thinking it isn’t so makes it worse than it really is. Someone called zen intensives “a manufactured crisis.” I suspect even the worst of life situations can be seen in same way, manufactured, that is, but that’s for another time.

As I look back on the whole blur, I’m feeling that I was caught in a hurricane. I didn’t think much about what I was doing or even what I was feeling. I seemed to be in the midst of things, doing whatever had to be done next. Gary, my brother-in-law, thought I should take a day off. Like the challenge of not coming to sit, I couldn’t do that.`

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Apr 12, 2018
How's Gail?

I guess people want to know how's Gail. When I came here three days ago, I was more concerned whether there was still a Gail as I have known her for 71 years. And she is absolutely Gail, which renews my faith that she isn't being altered by her circumstances.

I wished that she'd be more accepting of my Zen stories. Fortunately, she is no different on that accord that in the past, which contributes to my conclusion that she's the sister I've had and loved all these years.

Luckily, she is able to advocate and organize her treatment. This involves shots, medicine, calling doctors, and eating, sleeping etc. We talked about those unfortunate souls who are not able to do this, and also those who don't have a husband, a brother, friends and two terrific grown children to look after her.

Our parents were convinced that life wasn't worth living if they weren't able to walk, play tennis, and be independent. I think Gail is not of the same elk, which isn't surprising since she was never the obedient daughter. I'm thankful for that, because not only do I still have the same self-directed sister I've always had, but she has been an encouragement for me to not do as I am told. In fact, I've prided myself on never doing as I'm told—which somehow has worked out except in the Zen temple. (Actually it works out in Zen too.)

Friday she has a new cat-scan and then possibility some radiation along with the chemo. Her attitude is great as she sees this just as the job at hand.

Someone sent her a giant bouquet of flowers. Some of the petals are falling off. Several times a day I pick them up off the table and floor, and enjoy the endless abundance of remaining flowers. That is Gail. Still an abundance of love and beauty, yet with a few of her petals falling to the ground.

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May 26, 2018
No Problems

“You don’t have any problems.” That’s not only what Gail told me. That’s the only analysis she ever did of me (to my face). That’s from the mouth of a psychoanalyst.

And there is the story of the women who went to Buddha with 88 problems. He said he couldn’t fix her 88 problems but he could fix her 89th. “What’s that,” she said. “Having 88 problems,” he told her.

So one way to fix problems is to decide they aren’t problems. Suppose you have a flat tire. What’s the problem? Only that you want to get someplace.

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June 4, 2018
Transformation

At the time Gail decided not to pursue chemotherapy her doctor predicted that she would have six months, with three of them without pain. That was a little over a month ago. Unfortunately, late Thursday night the pain came. She has started her transformation, as my Zen teacher calls it. She mostly sleeps until she smells something cooking or a door squeaking. She asks, “What’s that?” And then she goes back to sleep. Starting today, she has 24/7 hospice nurses who are controlling her pain and other factors that are causing discomfort.

She feels so loved and appreciated on her journey. Unfortunately, this is not a good time for visitors. Julie and I (Kim) are here, and with the A-team of Scully (the wonder dog (WD)) who brings in the newspaper), Julie, Kim, Gary, Gail, and the hospice nurses, we are trying to create a quiet and loving environment for Gail.

Thanks again for your love. We’ll keep you updated on any changes.

Love,
Kim Julie, Gary and Scully the WD

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Changes
June 18, 2018

It has been awhile. I’ve been here for almost three weeks. When I came, Gail was mobile and most of the time sitting in her recliner. She said that if her life was just like this it would be fine. She was waiting for the pot to boil and wondering whether it ever would.

Laura, her hospice social worker, spoke of how dying is a process of separating. It reminded me of how astronauts must say goodbye to their family when they blast off. We had a discussion one night about how one month had passed of the six that she had been given, and that she hadn’t had enough time to rest. I took that as her wanting to separate. Yet a side of her still wanted to be all things to all people but realized that her energy and her time were waning. Gail added that she also wanted to get all things from all people.

Then she had a night of pain, followed by a few days of sleep. Just when we started to adjust to sleep being the new normal for Gail, she awoke out of a haze and relearned where she was and who we were. Slowly but surely, she came back, ending up with days of non-stop talking, laughter and smiles. All was well in Altadena.

Now it seems like she is more tired and a little less certain that she can leave anything until tomorrow. Daughter Julie talks about a course she is taking called A Year to Live and how she saw it as very abstract until her mom was given months to live. Now Julie talks about living as if she has to savor every moment because it could be her last. It seems that can be done joyfully, as Blake wrote, “He who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternities’ sunrise.” Gail is doing that and teaching us how dying can be met with curiosity and gratitude.

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June 23, 2018
A Train Ride

Today I told someone that I’m in Calif. because my sister Gail is dying and she’s not doing very well. She said, “Oh I’m sorry,” and I told her that not doing well at dying was good news. I’ve been thinking about this business of living and dying, and how Gail is living, not dying, though part of this living trip is dying, the same as when you go on a train ride, getting on and off the train is part of the ride. Gail decided she wanted to redecorate her room. It was getting messy, and full of medical supplies and equipment. Though this might be her last train ride, she wanted to do it in style. Luckily making a room look good is one of my wife Linda's many talents.

Buddha said that the cause of death is being born, yet we are surprised each time we die. Maybe the real living and dying is more about whether we are in a daze or awake. Are we dragged by karma (our past actions) or led by vow (our will to make a difference), as Uchiyama wrote?

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June 24, 2018
The Great Matter

My niece Julie asked about the great matter. “Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed. Do not squander your life.”

What does it mean that life and death are of supreme importance? How are they important? What is meant “to awaken”? Does this mean that the Great Matter is life or death? And what is life or death? Are they simply points on a time line? My grandpa was alive until 1967 and then he was dead. Is that what life is about? It seems that in this vein one might pee in their pants in mortal fear of dying. In fact, their life would be no more than swerving from side to side, avoiding death at every turn. What a miserable life!

What would it look like to squander one’s life? Would this be to not strive to awaken? There is the story of the Zen monk who doesn’t respond to being hugged by the young woman. Is he striving to awaken? Is that why the old women burns down his hut?

Again, what does it mean that life and death are of supreme importance? Why? Is it for oneself to lead a good life, or is it for the Bodhisattva vow to save all being [singular is used since we are part of a whole]? Is the Great Matter simply to “love”?

Are our thoughts sustained empathic inquiry for oneself? Is there a oneself? It says on the han (a board in a temple that is hit to send monks to their seats) that time swiftly passes by. What is that about? Is it really time that passes by? Time flies? How could time fly in time? How do we lose an opportunity? Do “opportunities” have an essence of their own? Do they even exist?~

In 1980 my parents retired and moved to La Jolla. I went to visit them, expecting them to be waiting for death. I photographed them sitting under some vicious stuffed fish at one of their favorite classy restaurants. I soon discovered that they were doing anything but waiting for death. They were fully alive, even if their lives appeared boring to their teenage grandchildren.

In 1992 I worked with a colleague who had stage 4 metastatic cancer that had gone to her liver. We did a project together about her journey. We discovered in the end that she thought she was living and I thought she was dying. Thankfully, she is still living. You can see a video of the exhibit linked to my website. (https://youtu.be/fPHYDJVf55A)

And almost a month ago I came to California because my sister was dying. Ha. That was a joke. Yes, she has “terminal cancer.” No, she’s not dying. She’s living. Or maybe living and dying are one, easily reduced to the word “changing.” Maybe we are all living and dying, with each breath.

We speak of time in funny ways, with expressions like “time passes,” “where did the time go,” “a waste of time.” We speak of time as an object rather than a means of ordering events. When we die, a doctor issues a death certificate. When we awake, the doctor issues a birth certificate. What else do these two life events have in common? Are birth and death a parenthesis or are they life itself? What is in between, if anything? (When I went to the bureau of vital statistics to pick up Gail’s death certificate, there were two lines: one for birth certificates and one for death certificates. There was nothing in between.)

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June 30, 2018

In a Snow Storm

A few weeks ago, Gail was at the stage of knowing that Death’s arrival was imminent but was feeling alert and joyous that he had not yet knocked at her door. Now it is evening, and it feels that she can see him coming, perhaps in a snow storm, even if he is still far away. This changes her perspective somewhat.

Her ability to multitask is limited. She was in the middle of telling a story to her daughter when I entered the room. “Get out,” she said, “or I’ll forget the story I’m trying to tell.”

This is different for me too. Where I was blown away by Gail who said that people are silly to be so fearful of death, now I see a different person who is weaker and not quite the jovial person that I’ve always known. She is still concerned for the people she loves and is making sure that she gives them what she still can. This is a symphony. The crescendos have ended and now we are all being let down slowly. The music isn’t over, but we don’t expect more than an ending that makes sense, filled with both bravery and remorse. Bravery in facing this change with grace, and remorse is not being able to perform this or that last act of kindness.

P.S. She sleeps a lot and when she wakes up, she loves being read your letters and emails, but she doesn’t have the energy to respond.

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July 3, 2018
The Wedding

I had mentioned before the Blake quote, ”he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternities sunrise.” Funny that he said sunrise and not sunset. Is the sun always rising in eternity?

I was agitated this morning, not knowing where we were. Then I imagined a wedding as a metaphor for our lives, with death being the final event.

We might think of the wedding as the ceremony, the feast, and the party. We think the hardy are those that stay to the end. I imagine the couple is looking forward to the gang leaving so that they can get on with their consummation. “Enough of the party,” they might say to themselves.

We’ve been through the planning for the wedding. Even lists were created about who’d be notified first (the “A” list) and who to invite to the memorial (finally that list was abandoned). Then there was the wedding, joyfully believing that the ceremony would be full of love and gratitude. The clock kept ticking, and it was time for the music to start. The bride and groom walked down the aisle. Everything was choreographed, everything, that is, until people got a little tipsy and started embarrassing both themselves, and the bride and groom.

Now only a few guests remain. The sunrise is soon to come. The bride is sleeping peacefully, occasionally waking long enough to take some medicine or a sip of water. This is the final journey, the consummation of one’s life as it merges into the world at large. It is sad as we wish it was different. It is beautiful as a new birth, a new starting over, a beginning rather than an end.

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July 4, 2018
Hari Krishna

At the Hari Krishna center in St. Louis, there is a series of about eight clay people, maybe four inches high. There is a newborn, a small child on his hands and knees, some grownups in various stages of adulthood, and an old man with a cane. There is a striking similarity between the baby and the old man, neither of whom can stand on there own two feet.

My sister Gail is now the baby. I hold her hand. It is a little cold. I check out her oxygen level. It is still 91, which is ok. I ask her if she can squeeze my hand if the answer to my question is yes. She seems to nod yes, so I ask her if she’s Gail. She doesn’t squeeze. I can’t tell what she’s thinking.

I didn’t know how to connect with her in this stage until I realized she was now a baby and how I’m not a whiz (like my wife is) with babies. Once I realized that my fear of not understanding her was keeping me from her I went back to her room and stayed with her.

I complained to her about her daughter Julie, who takes me and the dog on walks. She pretends that the roads in Altadena have a 2° slope. I tell Gail that she has taken me to Mt. Everest, and the slope is more like 45°. Gail doesn’t respond. I feel like a comedian who can’t see or hear his audience. Gail looks at me with a confused look. “What the hell is he blabbering about,” I think she is saying to herself.

And then there are the times when we come into her room and stupidly ask her how she is. Why do we do that? I expect her to scream at us, “I’m dying, you fools.” But no, she lies there with one eye barely opened, and the other eye half open. I only wish that she would yell at us, “How do you think I am?” And we could all laugh. But no, she says nothing, and our words are answered by her silence.

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July 9, 2018
In the Spaceship

I thought when my parents died I’d be an orphan. My Mom said when she was dying that she’d always be with me. I thought to myself, “Wishful thinking mom.”

At a doctor’s office today I went into the restroom and the auto sensor light didn’t turn on. I asked the receptionist why. She said it is an auto sensor light. I tried again. Still, darkness. Then she said, “Try the third floor.” That worked.

I had a sci-fi fantasy that when one dies they vanish from people’s memories. Actually my high school eliminates the deceased from class lists. I guess they don’t see the dead as potential benefactors. In any case, it scared me a little when the bathroom sensor didn’t find me.

My sister Gail is in a spaceship going through a narrow tunnel to another presence. She is careful not to move, else the ship will go off course. I can see her intensity in making her journey to the unknown.

She was so curious about the experience of dying. Now she is getting to do it. She is 150% focused on this task as being the job at hand. Her mouth is open in astonishment. She has left us, us as mere distractions to the job at hand. But she has not left the planet. Her body will go to science for some study, and then she’ll be cremated. Jews say that one should stay intact so they can return to Earth when the Messiah comes. Ha! She’s not going anywhere. She’s here in our hearts forever. Disease can’t take that away. Long live the queen!

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July 10, 2018
Sometimes They Don't

“Did you have a nice weekend?” So I told her the story of how our power went out and my in-hospice sis ran out of oxygen and how I had to drive to the top of a hill to use my cell.

So sometimes things go right and sometimes they don’t. A panel of economists were asked to predict what the stock market would do in the next year. The economists all had opinions about why it would go up or down. One economist knew better. He said with great certainty, “It will fluctuate.”

My sis is taking 3 or 4 breaths a minute. I know a zen meditator who claims she can do 5. I do about 17. When Gail’s breaths are far apart there are concerns after each out-breath whether it is the last. But so far there comes another and still another, albeit far apart.

So what are the life lessons here? Impermanence at her best? Previous behavior does not predict future behavior. Fluctuation might be the only certainty.

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July 16, 2018
Is She or Isn't She?

I wrote some time ago that Gail was still here. I was referring to my finding that my sister was still here in all her splendor. She could talk and listen and laugh. Now she’s still ticking, in the sense that her heart is pumping, but she’s not available as she once was.

So is she here or not? When do we stop being who we are?

Is alive and dead a continuum? Is she almost dead or is that like being almost pregnant?

She isn’t as she once was. So do we throw her out to pasture? She is taking her time performing an extraordinary exit from an extraordinary life. For once she isn’t able to be what she once was because she is taking a difficult solo journey. (Previously she acted pretty impulsively. She’d tell me she wanted a new computer. I’d tell her to wait for the upcoming model. She would go and get the current model. No time to waste was her mantra.)

Maybe wanting her to be who she was is just about me. Letting her meander the arduous path to her transformation is about her. I need to respect her state as she is now.

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July 17, 2018
The End

For days, it seemed that each breath might be Gail’s last, but she wasn’t quite ready to leave us. Finally, last night she quietly let the last breath go and did not take another.

A few days ago I wondered if I had told her what I wanted to say to her. I somehow didn’t think I had, though we had been talking for six weeks until she couldn’t talk any more. I let go of her hand and put it on the bed guard. She raised her hand up to grasp mine again. Is there ever more than this?

This morning I told my son, “Cherish every moment.” And then, later in the day, I heard about a dying Zen priest who woke up each morning and said the word “gratitude.” Then he would look around to see what was going on, and have gratitude for that, even if it was a pain that he was feeling.

This afternoon, I called to arrange the return of Gail’s wheelchair. The woman at the other end of the line had only met Gail on the telephone. She went on and on about how Gail was the sweetest, nicest person she had spoken to. I had her repeat all that on speaker phone for Gary, her husband. Everyone tells a similar story about Gail. We can all have gratitude for that gift she so generously shared with all of us.

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July 21, 2018
Preparations

I had imagined that Gail would someday be gone and I could get on with my life. Just as I was not an orphan when my parents transformed, I’m not siblingless now that Gail and Sandy are elsewhere.

Yesterday I told the woman next door to Gail that she had passed. She put her hands together and a single tear dropped from her left eye to the ground. I looked to my right and saw that some beautiful lemons had just fallen to the ground from her lemon tree.

We needed help planning the memorial. Karen and Kristie have taken over. Yesterday Karen came over to help. We so appreciate their what they are doing to make a beautiful memorial.

Melissa, my daughter, helped Gary yesterday line up a succession of B&Bs in Austin until his apartment is ready at Westminster Manor.

Linda continues to be both the calming soul, and the torrential organizer and cleaner. It is dangerous to leave her alone because another part of the house will get transformed.

Gary has been laboriously going through his files and photos, and reducing them to a few boxes.

Her son Alan generously ordered us the boxes and bubble pack we need. That will really help with the move and save us a day of driving around to get them.

Wordsworth wrote, “That best portion of a man's life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” Gail continues to sing as her passing perpetuates this generous energy. Thanks everyone for stepping up to the plate (a baseball metaphor for Gary).

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July 28, 2018
The Memorial at 1120 Madre Vista, Altadena, CA

Gail,

In the Zen World, I’ve heard many times that the purpose of our lives is to learn how to die. You certainly figured that out. It was such a privilege to witness your flight into the unknown. You did it with grace, curiosity, and no regrets.

Last night I could only think about mustard seeds. A woman brought the limp body of her child to the Buddha. “Can you fix her?” she said. “Yes,” he said, “but first bring me a mustard seed from a home that has not seen death.” The mother visited all the homes in the village and then came back to Buddha to become a disciple. (She discovered she was not only alone in losing a loved one, but she discovered that she had a community of support. When I returned to Austin, I discovered so many here that had also experienced loss and hardship in their lives. I realized too that though I’ve lost my immediate family, I have a wonderful wife, kids, grandkids, brother-in-law, relations to all these people, and a wonderful community of friends here and elsewhere.

Gail, I hope you aren’t too disappointed that you weren’t able to come to your memorial. I remember you originally wanted to do that, but then decided that you didn’t need to because of the immense expression of love that you received before you transformed into your present being. You are very much here in our hearts and minds. So thank you for being here with all your love and splendor, and especially your continual smile.

Yesterday I had a haircut. It was my third one in Pasadena, as this is also the third memorial for our family in this garden. The other day one of my Zen teachers was talking about mirrors and how difficult it is to look at oneself. I was surprised as I looked at the barber’s mirror to see all the emotion in my forehead. It seemed to be a combination of sadness and worry. It was scrunched up and for the life of me, I couldn’t change it. It was like a tattoo of sorts, which I assume in time will go away. It was a tattoo that you had left with me.

You were so beautiful to the end of this life. There was only once where I saw those worry lines in your cheeks. I took those as an anomaly, and they soon went away. But the lines in my forehead didn’t go way. They stared at me for the entire haircut.

But how are you feeling? I’m so glad you never asked me that. You would say “dish.” That was always welcome. Maybe when I realize someday that I don’t have any problems, as you told me, the lines will go away in my forehead.

I think the opposite of having problems is expressing gratitude. I want to express thanks to Gary for allowing Linda and I to be part of this and future adventures in his life. I want to thank Julie in so many ways for being there from the beginning. What a lovely person to get to know and love, even if we would have never chosen the circumstances. And thanks to Karen and Kristie for putting together the memorial. What a gift that was! And thanks to everyone for being there for you and thanks especially to those here today to celebrate your life. We love you so much, Gail.

Your favorite brother, Kim

P.S. A bunch of monks were grieving over their dying teacher. “Do not mourn for me,” the teacher said, “I know who I am.”  Yes, Gail, you did. Bon Voyage.

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September 5, 2018
Which Ticket Window?

Dear Gail,

In Mexico City’s bus station, there is a different ticket window for each destination. One needs to find the right window for their trip and then stand in line. Standing in line means one’s body is touching the body in front of them, and is touched by the body behind them. Any deviation here gives permission for an interloper to butt into the line.

In the Intensive a few weeks ago I decided I was on the wrong bus when Judy mentioned that the theme was “beauty.” I’ve been an EMT, of sorts, for the last six months. Beauty? I thought when I became an artist 60 years ago that I could simply devote my life to that. And then this EMT job came up of someone needing me. When Judy said “beauty” I wanted to scream that beauty was for perfect worlds. In this world, we have other work to do.

In an activity at the intensive, we gathered in a small room. Jon-Eric spoke about the magnetism in organic molecules that tell us where to go. Others read about beautiful touching passionate experiences they had had with common objects that were initially not beautiful to them. I complained that there wasn’t time for beauty.

Then we heard the clackers followed by the meal chant for lunch. We chanted how the meal is for true practice. Something clicked for me as I wondered if the meal was just for physical sustenance or was there more? A meal can also be beauty. It is more than putting gas in one’s car. We chant that there are three forms and six tastes of food. There is sometimes the sound of laughter and banter during a meal, and other times, the intimacy of quiet.

When the Buddha-to-be was given the milk water by the big hearted woman, he was revived and replenished by the food, but may have been touched even more by someone caring for his life. Beauty awakens my heart. When I looked at the carpenter ants that visited me during the last meditation, I marveled at their phenomenal design encapsulated in such a small body. “My heart leaps up when I behold...” Wordsworth wrote 200 years ago. Being alive to beauty is being alive. The Bodhisattva needs a heart or else she’ll smash the poor defensive-less carpenter ants against the floor with the wood striker and then congratulate herself with her virility. Beauty opens us up to meet one another with generosity and love.

I might have gone to the wrong ticket window, but I boarded the right bus. I certainly like where it took me. Thanks for this Judy and Gail too. You were just what I needed.

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Visiting Gail/Gail Visiting

I’ve had two two brief interactions with Gail since her passing. The first was early in a week long meditation. I fell asleep on the cushion which has been happening too often lately and when I woke I heard her say, “I’m going to heaven.” Though she poo-pooed the idea of an afterlife, I was relieved that she had let go of the tunnel of dying or is it the unborn, as Peg called it. The second interaction was toward the end of the same intensive. This time I was awoken by the women next to me. I was on a cushion and she was on a chair. As she rose from her chair she kicked me in the ribs. At that moment I was telling Gail “no way,” complaining that the work she had left for me was insurmountable. I took the kick to be Gail saying, “Yes, you can do it.”  Thanks and bon voyage, Gail.

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Long Live Scully

Update: Scully the wonder dog went for two months of training before accompanying Gary at Westminster Manor. He was scheduled to come home 10/25. On 10/22 he had trouble standing up and was diagnosed with cancer of the spine. He was put to sleep that day. It was a sad day indeed and reminded us once more that the “best laid plans of mice and men” don’t always turn out as planned.



Sunday, May 6, 2018

Reflections

Reflected in the urn of my cousin Wayne Mosley were his friends and family. Wayne had generated this spectacular community that defied the parting that he had done. With his beautiful and devoted daughter Jessi on the left and his lifelong friend & cousin Larry next to her we say goodbye. I spoke, mentioning the lives that continue in the reflection. I mentioned Blake’s song, “He who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternities’ sunrise.” Then some went up to the urn, put both their hands on it, and kissed the joy that Wayne had shared. Fly away, Wayne, and thank you for making us.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Jisha's Teacher


No sooner had I decided that I'd be my sister's Jisha (attendant) than someone said that would make her my teacher. And Zen teachers say that there is no separation of giver, gift or receiver. It is like when you aren't minding your p's and q's while doing electrical work. If you get shocked, the shock, the electrical wire, and you become one. They can't be separated. Any interaction is like that, including a kiss. Kissing occurred. That's it.

I thought I was just going to serve my sis. It seemed implausible and selfish to attend to her for a teaching. Thinking a little more about it, the teacher, the student, and the teaching really are one at the moment of the shock. That is what occurred when a Zen patriarch was enlightened after his teacher tugged on his robe. It is called "instantaneous enlightenment" and also "transmission" though it might have taken 1000s of lifetimes for the patriarch to get enlightened/transmitted from a tug (or from any other of the chance occurrence that did the trick).

At. Pasadena's Target store yesterday I had an argument with the young Jewish checkout clerk. He had a yarmulke (aka kippah) on his head. A fun diversion: yamaka in Buddhism refers to that part of the Pali Canon that are the real teachings of the Buddha. In any case, after I checked out he said "have a nice day." I asked why and he said that it is better to have a nice day than a bad day. I told him that all days are good, even the bad ones. He told me I was wrong. But we know that the customer is always right, so I repeated that all days are good––even the bad ones. I hoped he'd remember that.

I'm reminded over and over again of my childhood friend's father who had to have his feet amputated to save his life. Being a brilliant theologian, he repeated a number of times with much gratitude that it simply was the best of the alternatives. In Buddhism there is the koan where the disciple enters the room and says, "How is the venerable master today?" Master Ma answers, "Sun face Buddha, moon face Buddha." My sis is moon face Buddha these days. Yes, if she had a sun face light switch, she'd click it on. But still she's riding high in the saddle, despite having a body that needs some serious repair, and having a house with a clogged drain even after two plumber visits.

Hopefully the last of the clogs will be freed up this morning with plumber visit #3. As for my sister, she might not have a good day today, and that will be alright.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Still Gail


I guess people want to know how's Gail. When I came here 3 days ago, I was more concerned whether there was still a Gail as I have known her for 71 years. And she is absolutely Gail, which renews my faith that she isn't being altered by her circumstances.

I kind of wished that she'd be more accepting of my Zen stories. Fortunately, she is no different on that accord that in the past, which contributes to my conclusion that she's the sister I've had and loved all these years.

Luckily she is able to advocate and organize her treatment. This involves shots, medicine, calling doctors, and eating, sleeping etc. We talked about those unfortunate souls who are not able to do this, and also those who don't have a husband, a brother, friends and two terrific grown children to look after her.

Our parents were convinced that life wasn't worth living if you weren't able to walk, play tennis, and be independent. I think Gail is not of the same elk, which isn't surprising since she was never the obedient daughter. I'm thankful for that, because not only do I still have the same self-directed sister I've always had, but she has been an encouragement for me to not do as I am told. In fact, I've prided myself on never doing as I'm told—which somehow has worked out except in the Zen temple.

Friday she has a new cat-scan and then possibility some radiation along with the chemo. Her attitude is great as she just sees this as the job at hand.

Someone sent her a giant bouquet of flowers. Some of the petals are falling off. Several times a day I pick them up off the table and floor, and enjoy the endless abundance of remaining flowers. That is Gail. Still an abundance of love and beauty, yet with a few of her petals falling to the ground.